Boomers Look to Wrap up Group Stage with Win over Venezuela

The Boomers’ resiliency this tournament has been nothing short of impressive. After suffering a disappointing loss to the U.S., you could have forgiven them for being slightly disinterested against China.

It was a game Australia was expected to win easily and one they’d play without starting centre Andrew Bogut, who was being “managed” (a.k.a. rested) through some knee discomfort.

“No player is ever happy to sit out but he understood for the overall picture and good of the team, it was smart for him to get a little additional rest at this time,” explained coach Andrej Lemanis post-game.

David Andersen, whose form has been red hot, was inserted into the starting lineup only to pick up two very soft fouls in the opening minutes and be forced to sit.

Lemanis was left with no choice but to test his bench depth against the size and length of the Chinese.

“It was a good opportunity for those guys to get some confidence and get in the flow of the tournament,” Lemanis said.

That length caused problems early as the Boomers had four turnovers inside the first four minutes, one area they especially needed to improve after the U.S. game.

A slow start had Boomers fans slightly on edge, but they settled in the second quarter, dominating the boards and sharing the ball as they’ve done so well. They ultimately cruised to a 25-point win against China, which is yet to win a game in the group phase.

“It was one of those ones that we could’ve easily relaxed, but I thought mentally we were sharp and we got into it,” Lemanis said.

The very things the Boomers needed to work on in that game—limiting turnovers, keeping their opponents off the offensive glass, reducing their foul count and continuing to share the ball to find good shots—were mostly done extremely well.

The final turnover count was just 10 for the game (six in the final 36 minutes), which is well below the 17 coughed up against the U.S. The Boomers limited China to just five offensive rebounds, again a huge improvement on the 21 we allowed the Americans to grab. Fouls were an issue early and still need to be tidied up more, but our ball movement was sensational.

The Boomers had 34 assists on their 37 field goals and now lead the tournament in total assists by 11 over Team USA and have 21 more than Serbia in third. That unselfishness allowed some different guys to find their rhythm against China.

Our scoring was more balanced as Cam Bairstow led the way with 17 points (7-of-13 field goals), Brock Motum got it going with 15 points (6-of-9) and Ryan Broekhoff, Aron Baynes and Andersen all had 12 points. All 11 Boomers that suited up got on the scoresheet and Damian Martin even maintained his perfect strike rate from downtown.

“There’s nothing like getting out there in the heat of the battle to continue to build and get your rhythm,” said Lemanis.

The Boomers will look to do similar when they take on Venezuela in their final pool game at 8 a.m. AEST on Monday.

Venezuela, in only its second Olympics, has been bringing up the rear in Group A with China, having won just the one game, 72-68 against the Chinese.

It’s a team that competes hard, but without Brooklyn Nets guard Greivis Vasquez, it’s also a team short on talent. The Venezuelans took it to Team USA earlier this week, ending the first quarter tied at 18, but have not had much other success aside from the China game.

They rank second-last in scoring, dead last in field goal percentage (at a woeful 37.4 percent) and three-point percentage (23.8 percent), second-last in rebounds (although they’re second on the offensive glass), equal-last in blocks, and fifth in steals.

In other words, if Australia continues to move the ball and be aggressive offensively as it has been to date, it’ll find it easy to score against Venezuela. There is virtually no shot-blocking to contend with, so getting to the rim should be the aim, as well as more Delly-oops.

The Boomers can also attack the offensive glass for second-chance opportunities and look to close this one out early, to get their starters some more rest ahead of the knockout phase.

Of course, you want to go into that first elimination game with good rhythm, so it’ll be important for Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Baynes, Matthew Dellavedova and Bogut (if he plays) to get their reps, before handing it over to the second unit, which will also benefit from some extra minutes at this stage.

Lemanis knows this and will continue to prepare his team in the best possible way as he’s done all tournament.

“I think he’s been nothing short of brilliant,” said Andrew Gaze of Lemanis’ coaching performance in Rio during the broadcast of the China game.

Venezuela’s main threats come from Gregory Echenique, a 6-foot-9 centre who leads the team in points and rebounds, his front court buddy Nestor Colmenares and John Cox, who put up 19 points against Team USA. Cox is the cousin of Kobe Bryant, and his father, John “Chubby” Cox, played in the NBA for one year in 1983 with Washington.

The Vargas brothers, Jose and Gregory, are also productive, veteran guards, but have struggled shooting the ball in Rio.

France beat Venezuela by 40 points yesterday, holding them to a tournament-low of 56 points, so, given the calibre of basketball the Boomers have been playing and the lack of size on Venezuela, this should be an easy win and possibly our easiest of the group phase.

A victory would lock up second place in Group A, meaning we could not meet the Americans until the gold medal game. We’d face the third-place team from the wide-open Group B in the quarter-finals.

A loss would be not only embarrassing, but also potentially disastrous for the Boomers as they would fall to third in the group should France upset the U.S. That would mean a semi-final showdown with the Americans instead of a clearer path to the gold medal game.

This may be getting ahead of ourselves now, but with the way the Boomers have come together and handled their opponents, the goal they’ve always spoken about seems as attainable as it ever has, and therefore I cannot see any kind of letdown against the Venezuelans.

“We’re in a good spot,” Lemanis said.

“Confidence is good, we’re playing some good basketball and we have continued to improve every game.”

There’s no official word yet on whether Bogut will play in this one, however it’s expected he will, even if just limited minutes. That will be important for him to keep some conditioning and rhythm before the quarter-finals, especially given the Boomers have two full days off after group play ends.

The knockout stage begins on Thursday (Australian time).


Author of the article

When you’re introduced to the NBA as a 6 year old in 1984, staying up late to watch Bird, Magic and Dr. J, it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with the game. I became consumed with the Association, and as my own game was developing, I tried to emulate as much as I could at an early age and learn how to play “the right way”. I have memories as a teenager of being glued to Saturday Basketball on TV and spending every spare cent I had on basketball cards and replica jerseys and so began my obsession with NBA knowledge and stats. I played my first season of Fantasy Hoops in 2002, as my serious playing days were slowing down. I now play in 5 or 6 leagues every year. To say I’m obsessed with Fantasy Hoops would be an understatement. To say I love nothing more than sharing my opinion on a player’s value would be entirely accurate, and I guess, the reason why I’m here. Follow me on twitter: @tomhersz @downtownball

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